The best-studied scientific uses of meditation are in the health sciences, where decades of mind-body medical research have shown meditative techniques based on Indian practices effective in treating stress-related disorders from heart disease to anxiety. Informed by early work on stress and hypnosis, the first mechanistic models viewed meditation as a unitary technique for inducing relaxation and autosuggestion. With developments in hypnosis and psychotherapy research, later clinical studies of mindfulness-based stress-reduction lead to the current view of meditation as a spectrum of practices whose common mechanism of action is to enhance learning by use-dependent heightening of attention. This new clinical model dovetails with basic psychophysiologic research in which Indo-Asian meditative practices have emerged as the most effective, extensive and systematic methods of reproducing the deautomatization or conscious self-regulation of mind-body processes, from conditioned stress-reactivity to basal metabolism. It also dovetails with developments in psychotherapy research, where hypnosis-driven theories have given way to social constructivist views aligning cognitive-behavioral paradigms with plasticity-based neural network models of memory and learning.
In a previous paper, I reviewed the literature on meditation and psychotherapy, and proposed a multidisciplinary model linking these culturally diverse practices as biologically analogous methods of reducing stress-conditioned resistances to learning and enhancing its conscious self-regulation. Adapting the definition of allostatic load from stress research as a measure of resistance to learning and the findings on use-dependent neurogenesis from environmental enrichment research as a measure of facilitation of learning, this model maps the spectrum of Indo-Asian meditative techniques along with their Western psychotherapeutic analogues onto a threefold framework of personal, social and integral practices of stress-deconditioning and enriched-relearning. The model and framework are proposed as provisional clinical, research and teaching aids and are based on descriptive and empirical evidence suggesting that these three types of practices are
effective in deconditioning stress-conditioned blocks to encoding, registration and commitment and in enriching cognitive, affective and behavioral relearning at the neocortical, limbic and core brain levels of the triune brain, respectively.
In this paper, I first review the rationale and evidence for some such model, and then extend the discussion to two areas of broader scientific interest: the multidisciplinary science of mind and the general process of scientific self-correction. As for the former, I review the case for the basic scientific uses of meditation in cognitive neuroscience, and discuss some ways in which a model aligning Indo-Asian meditative
practices with Western psychotherapeutic practices can help cognitive science correct for consensual methodological biases that would limit its development and use as an evidence-based alternative to the psychoanalytic paradigm of multidisciplinary mind science. My focus here is on exploring how such a model helps cross-culturally and historically validate the cognitive-practical advantages of an integrative human
science of mind-i.e. one that accepts linguistics and self-regulation as its analytic language and empirical method-over a reductive physical science of mind-i.e. one that privileges mathematics and mechanics as the only objective scientific language and method.
Exploring the cognitive-practical advantages of a human science-based multidisciplinary science of mind like Indian yoga or Western psychotherapy brings us to the second broad area of scientific interest I will discuss: the general scientific uses of meditative theories and practices. The major scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century-in physics, mathematical logic, linguistics, computer science, genetics and neuroscience-have had the cumulative effect of fostering the postmodern consensus that scientific knowledge is relative to human knowers and actors, yet advances toward objectivity through various processes of social and historical self-correction. Still being debated are the nature, scope and conclusiveness of these sociohistorical processes, especially the role individual knowers and actors play as epistemological and moral agents of scientific self-correction. Given the evolutionary outlook common to modern Western and ancient Indian science, the role individual variation plays in scientific self-correction is not likely to be negligible, or even insignificant.
Hence, I go on to explore what I see as the most general and promising application of Indo-Asian meditative traditions: to offer the new science of mind time-tested principles and practices of lifelong integrative learning aimed at correcting innate and acquired resistances to objective self-knowledge and self-regulation and hence reproducing progressively more objective agents of scientific knowledge and practice. I close with some general comments about the meeting of modern Western and ancient Indian science, based on a comparison between American philosopher Thomas Nagel’s concept of the objective self and Indian Buddhist philosopher Chandrakirti’s concept of an enlightened altruist.